The extra curricular activities at Sadler School, located near the Womble Mountain in Southern Illinois, were varied and sometimes shocking. Before getting into just a few happenings of long ago, allow me to assure you that a worthwhile measure of learning did take place. In my opinion, the "Illinois State Course of Study" required by law, was followed with the same seriousness as it was in other schools.
From the year 1916 to 1934, teachers who left their finger prints, a touch of their personality, and their brand of "one room school" teaching are as follows: Verba Wallace, Guy DeNeal, Roy Reynolds, Robert Blackman, Margaret Buchanan, Ethel Estes, Elmo Williams, Ruth Arndt, Otto Williams, Mary Irvin, Eva Millikan, Jon Owens, and Mary Harper.
The Teachers named above varied in personality traits, but they were all honest, friendly, intelligent, God-fearing and hard working. The teachers taught and the students learned. Often time the teacher and students learned together.
At Sadler School, children learned very quickly how to trade a wide range of articles -- sling shots, spool tractors propelled by rubber bands, marbles, apples, turnips, knives, and just about anything that a boy could get in his pocket.
By their own choosing the boys and girls ate their lunches separately -- outside weather permitting. Lunch trading was a relished part of the noon break. Two brothers often ate from the same lunch bucket, which was true with my brother Victor, four years my junior, and me.
I fell in love with victor as a toddler. He was the third son and the fourth child in a family of six children. In his preschool years, he delighted me with his keen brown eyes, red curly hair, and a sprinkling of freckles on his face. Even his baby teeth held a special attraction for me.
I gave expression to my warm feeling for Victor by fastening an empty spice box, with a slot cut in it, on the wall. Into this box I dropped coins, as I earned them, toward the purchase price of something Victor really wanted.
The "big brother-little brother" relationship went super until Victor reached the age of six and entered school, and I reached the advanced age of ten and had taken over what I felt was my right, god-given position as top rooster in the peck system.
The friction between us began when I suggested to Mom that my brother, Byrum, who had already mastered the art of trading lunch bucket items, take his lunch in a bucket by himself, and Victor and I eat from the same bucket. To this Victor objected on the ground that it would interfere with his trading.
After about a month, Mom gave in to Victor's asking to be allowed to take his lunch separately. She promised to fix his lunch in a half-gallon syrup bucket.
On that first morning he was to have his very own lunch bucket, some neighbor children came by on their way to school before Mom had our lunches fixed. Victor wanted to go ahead with them the one mile to school. I promised him I would bring his lunch bucket.
Five minutes later, I was following alone in their footsteps. The path took me through the woods, up and down little hills, and across little streams.
Half-way to school was a branch or creek we called Rocky Branch. It was dry other than after a big rain, at which time a foot log up stream came into use.
I left the path to explore up the dry creek bed, which was well blessed with grayish-black, coconut-sized rocks. The hazel bushes and the hickory trees well laden with nuts caused me to think of what General McArthur had not yet said, "I shall return."
Near a litle pool of water a huge, yellowish-green bullfrog loomed in sight and grasped my interest. I saw fun and excitement written all over him. I set down the two lunch buckets, took off my overall jacket, and from a distance of about eight feet threw it spread out into the air. The frog jumped, but not in time to escape being captured by the falling jacket.
I quickly transferred Victor's lunch from his half-gallon syrup bucket to my seven pound lard bucket. Very little time passed before I was back on the well-beaten path. The frog was in the smaller bucket well blessed with tiny air holes made in the lid with the point of my knife.
On arriving at school, two almost grown eighth graders, Donald Wallace and Orval Edwards were really tying into each other. Playing rough was a favorite pastime, but I said to myself: "This is a fight if ever I saw one."
I set the lunch buckets down and rushed up to see if I could be of any help to my could, Donald. The old saying "Blood is thicker than water" had come into play. Or was it: "Fools dash in where angels fear to tread."
My work seemed cut out for me. It was all I could do to stay out of their way and to keep from getting trampled down or fallen on. They were repeating a pattern of stumbling around on foot, mixing it up, and floundering around on the ground.
Donald got the edge on Orval at one point and got his shoulders to the ground. I rushed in and slapped the ground three times as I counted one, two, three. Neither of them paid any attention to me. So to make my presence known, I got down on my hands and knees, with my face close to Orval's and said, "Donald, pour it on him. Churn his head up and down a few times."
Those words were conceived in confusion and were completely void of wisdom and foresight. In other words, I should have kept my mouth shut. I wasn't prepared for what happened next. Very quietly Orval said, "Donald, let me up."
The next instant Orval and I were on our feet. I was looking up at him, too smart to fight and too scared to run. He took me by the bib of my snug-fitting overalls and dealt with me in what I considered an unkind manner. To be more exact, he rudely pushed me on my butt. I came to my feet like a jumping-jack, and the same stunt was repeated. This time I came up more like I had lead in my pants, humiliated, cast down, but not conquered.
When Orval was about to give me a third dose of "tend to your own business medicine," Donald raised his voice and with a touch of authority said, "That's enough."
Orval stopped to consider what Donald said, but do you think I knew when to pull in my horns? No, I didn't. I still had "face to save" and "pride to avenge."
I threw out my chect like "Popeye" and said, "That is what I say. That's enough."
Orval laughed at me. My hands shot up as if he had a gun on me. I said, "I take that back."
Donald and Orval burst out laughing because of the "mule eating sawbriar" look on my face. I was happy I didn't get my tail tamped. The bell rang and the three of us walked into the school as friends.
The morning went by quickly. At 12 o'clock noon, the teacher dismissed us for an hour lunch and play break. The boys grabbed their lunch buckets and headed for a sagegrass-covered spot on the south side of the playground that joined the woods. rocks, logs, sagegrass, and the moss-covered ground served as seats.
I sat a little distance from Victor and watched him closely. He and the little boy next to him promptly exchanged lunch buckets. They just up and traded lunches sight unseen.
Victor pulled the lid from his newly acquired bucket and beamed with pride and satisfaction. When his friend removed the lid from the syrup bucket, the look on his face showed utter shock and disappointment. It was both sad and humorous. victor sensed that something was wrong and took a look in the bucket at the bullfrog. His amazement exceeded that of his friend. He fastened his eyes on me displaying anger and wounded pride. It caused me to want to use the familiar words of many present day men: "It's not what it seems. Let me explain."
The little friend was on the verge of tears when I told Victor that his lunch was in my bucket and explained that I had to use his bucket to bring the frog to school so he could trade it to someone. Victor responded to my suggestion that he give his friend's lunch back. They both understood that they could still do some trading if they wanted to.
Immediatley Victor had some offers for his frog -- a sling shot, some marbles, and a spool tractor. Orval Edwards, addressing both of us said, "I'll even give you this sweet, purple-top turnip for that frog." I thought it might be fun for that frog to be in Orval's hands, so I gave Victor a sly little nod. Victor's response surprised all of us. He said, "I'll let you have that frog for that turnip and a doodle bug." He went ahead to say that he had promised his little sister Hazel, a doodle bug. Orval took him up on his offer and passed the turnip down to Victor and took possession of the frog. The frog trade made Victor's day. He and his friend had a good time sharing their lunches.
Some other trading went on also. The trade that amused me most was between Donald and Orval: Donald offered to trade Orval a piece of pie he was holding for a meat sandwich Orval was about to eat. Each reached out to make the exhange. Donald snatched his pie back and took a big bite -- about half of it. Orval jerked his sandwich back and took an equally big bite. Then they offered to trade a second time and repeated the same stunt. Their mouths were too full to take another bite so they finally traded. Orval got a pie crust and Donald got just a rim of a sandwich. Both of them almost got choked laughing at their ridiculous behavior.
After lunch, Orval asked if anyone wanted to help him call up a doodle bug, which is a larva-type insect, grayish in color and no more than a quarter of an inch in length. They live in little funnel holes in the dry, dusty ground. All the boys wanted to help.
The ideal place to call up doodle bugs was under the high side of the school house, which was about three feet off the ground. The famous one-and-only call I ever heard of was and is: "Doooooodle bug, Doooooodle bug, Come Get a Grain of Corn" repeated over and over. Each caller has his or her own personal preference, based on success as to how loudly or gently they call and how close their mouth is to the ground.
I have called up doodle bugs just to prove to non-believers it could be done, but I didn't take part that day. The scene made a lasting impression on me. There were at least fifteen boys, ages six to sixteen, on their hands and knees, with their rears in the air, and their mouths close to the ground calling "Doooooodle bug, come get a grain of corn" loudly enough to call in the wild hogs from the woods.
There were two or three shouts of success at the same time. Soon Victor had two doodle bugs in a little match box to take to his sister, Hazel.
Back in the classroom the students seemed to become as serious about their studies as they were about calling doodle bugs. My attention soon turned to an assignment -- that of memorizing "Hiawatha" by Longfellow. My breathing had become shallow and my heart was beating fast as I read about Hiawatha's drawing his bow to kill "the red deer hidden in the elder bushes." There was the flying arrow that was "tipped with flint and winged with feather." There was the line that said, "Like a wasp it buzzed and stung him."
At this exact point in the poem, when I was keyed up like the strings on a banjo, the woman teacher let out a scream that would have caused the hair to stand up on a cat's back. I'm ashamed to admit it, but under the circumstances, I let out a shreak also and looked up just in time to see the bullfrog leap off the teacher's bosom -- his second leap after leaving the middle drawer of the teacher's desk.
After the first shock there was an outburst of laughter. It was less embarrassing for the teacher because part of the laughter was directed at me. When it dawned on me that I might be implicated in the incident, I sat with my elbows on my desk head in my hands. I recovered from my shock along with the teacher.
She asked if someone would like to take the frog and let it go. After a slight pause, Orval stood and said that he wasn't all that crazy about frogs, and that he would probably get a wart on his nose as big as the one on his grannie's hand, but he reckoned if no one else wanted to, he would.
Orval walked up to the front of the room where the frog was sitting tall about half way between the teacher's desk, which was in the middle of the room, and the north wall, a little way out from the blackboard, and not far from the corner.
The first thing Orval did was to get down on his hands and feet and kick back, scraping the floor with first one foot and then the other like a dog. In this position he ventured up about two feet and then shied off three. He next took a crouched position and frog-hopped about a foot at a time, and in this manner caused the frog to hop to the corner where Orval nabbed him. The children were roaring with laughter. The teacher was smiling and I recovered enough to smile too.
Orval held the frog high in his left hand as he started for the door on the other side of the room. With his back to the chalk dust tray, he moved along the black board behind the teacher. She was sitting at her desk again. Orval coun't resist the temptation of giving the children one more laugh. He lolled out his tongue almost to the end of his chin, and then he grabbed the skin on his throat and pretended to pull his tongue back in. It was a good clown act and laughter broke out again. It was just as funny to see the innocent look that came over Orval's face when the teacher looked around. He raised his shoulders and his eyebrows a little and looked puzzled and shook the frog a little so much as to say, "Maybe it was this." The kids laughed again, giving the impression they just had their tickle box turned over.
Showing off for the camera is nothing new. Photograph of Sadler School kids probably taken in 1941. For identification see end of article. Photograph courtesy of Calvin Cummins.
At recess, Victor tore himself away from his friends long enough to run by where I was and said, "Aren't we having fun?" He also asked if I could get him another frog for the next day. I told him to forget about the frog. I warned him that if he so much as mentioned the word "frog," the teacher might become angry and start screaming and throwing things.
Before the teacher dismissed us to go home, she had this to say:
"Children, we have had some good laughs today. If I could work magic, I wouldn't change a thing. However, what happened today did disturb school for awhile. I hope it won't happen again. Next time I will try harder to find out who did it."
Following these words of wisdom, Victor raised his hand and said, "Teacher, about that frog." At that point I cleared my throat ever so slightly.
The teacher asked, "What about the frog, Victor?" There was a long pause before Victor said, "Teacher, I plum forgetted what I was going to say."
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